How to Dress for Your Skin Tone, Part 1: Know Your Skin Complexion



They’re an integral part of fashion and we all like to play with a little color here and there.

Most of us know that stepping outside of your comfort zone by wearing some bold colors can nail you some serious style points, but those experiments can often end terribly wrong if you don’t understand which colors look good or bad against your skin.

Now it’s not rocket science, and with these few pointers you should be well on your way to better understanding how to choose colors to complement your skin tone. So let’s get into it!

Understanding Skin Tone

First off, we need to understand the difference between skin complexion and skin undertones, which together form your skin tone.

Skin complexion, or skin color, is basically the shade of your skin; you can have a light/pale complexion, a medium/olive complexion or a dark complexion.

Your skin undertone is different from your complexion, and will remain the same regardless of your skin color. There are three different undertones: cool, warm and neutral.

So the term ‘skin tone’ basically refers to the combination of your skin complexion/color with your skin undertone (i.e.: “pale skin with cool undertones”, “olive skin with warm undertones”).

In this article we will discuss the general colors that will look best for your skin complexion, and we will discuss undertones in part 2.

How to Dress for Your Skin Complexion

First step: look at your forearm. Is your skin closer to a snowflake or dark chocolate? You should fall in one of three categories: light/pale skin, dark skin, or medium/olive skin. Depending on which category you fit in, different colors will be more flattering against your skin.

Light/Pale Skin

Colors to wear

If you have pale skin, you want to wear colors that clearly contrast with your complexion. Look for rich, dark colors like navy, charcoal grey, burgundy, forest green, dark brown. Those are the kinds of colors that will sit well next to your skin and bring it alive.

Colors to avoid

You want to avoid wearing soft, pastel shades and bright colors as those will tend to wash you out, making you look like a cadaver. This also applies to neutrals, so instead of white, light grey and beige, opt for richer, darker shades like camel, khaki, tan and dark grey.

Now that doesn’t mean you can’t wear light colors at all, but you should aim to build the base of your outfit around dark colors and then pop in some lighter colors in the mix if you’d like. In fact, pure white can still work quite well for pale skin complexions (unless you’re literally a vampire), as long as the majority of your look isn’t white, and that the white is in fact pure white, not off-white or ivory. Just steer clear of pastel colors, as those will often be very close to your skin color and thus completely wash you out.

Medium/Olive Skin

Colors to wear

Lucky you! Most of the colors will work well with your skin tone, but you can make sure that you’re looking your best by opting for shades that are either a little brighter or a little darker than the midpoint. So if you’re going for earth tones for example, pale beige might work better than mocha brown, and charcoal grey will work better than mid grey.

Colors to avoid

What you want to avoid are colors that will blend in too much with your skin, giving you that nude look. When in doubt when shopping, place the item next to your arm: if you can barely tell the difference between your skin and the clothing, that’s a no-go. Colors that will probably not work for you are: mustard, olive, lime and mocha brown. Personally, I know that mustard looks terrible on my skin.

If your skin is medium to light, then darker shades will work better. If your skin is medium to dark, lighter shades will work better. So if you want to pull off a pastel look, make sure you’re tanned enough so that the pale colors don’t wash you out.

Navy and white are two colors that contrast very well with medium skin complexions like mine.

Dark Skin

Colors to wear

Congratulations! You’ve won the lottery, you can pull off pretty much any color your heart desires. Don’t be afraid to experiment with all the bold bright colors that the lighter skin folks can’t quite manage. Just make sure to anchor them with neutral colors to avoid looking like a clown. For a summer-ready look, try going for some pastel-on-pastel action, those shades will contrast very well with your complexion.

Colors to avoid

Okay I lied, there are some downfalls to your complexion. You pretty much want to stay far away from brown, because much like pastels for light skin, there won’t be enough contrast between your skin and the clothing.

Black and navy are two colors you also want to be careful with, as they can overshadow you when in large quantity, so make sure you mix them in with some lighter colors.


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